"Fruit Fly" Researcher Joins Buck Institute

Other Adjunct Appointments Mark 5-year Anniversary

September 28, 2004 Pankaj Kapahi, PhD, has joined the Buck Institute for Age Research as a faculty member. His laboratory will be studying the effects of nutrition and caloric restriction on the lifespan of the Drosophila melangaster, or fruit fly -- an area of research thought by many to be the ‘holy grail’ in the study of aging. Kapahi, who has been working at Caltech under the tutelage of pioneering scientist Dr. Seymour Benzer, will continue his work tracing the genetic steps by which fruit flies fed a Spartan diet live fifty to one hundred percent longer than their well-fed peers. Kapahi also hopes to study other cellular processes that affect lifespan as well as genetic susceptibility to overeating.

The Kapahi laboratory, funded by a $250,000 gift from retired Chevron CEO Bill Haynes and his wife Reta, will be “home” to approximately 1000 different strains of fruit flies, each having a lifespan of 40 to 60 days. “We wish to take advantage of the fact that a number of metabolic processes, including some that may affect the rate of aging, are similar between flies and humans,” said Kapahi, “The fact that flies are so short-lived makes it easy to track genetic mutations related to aging. Similar studies in rodents can take much longer -- two to three years -- to complete."

Kapahi became interested in the aging process when he was a teenager. While obtaining his doctorate at the University of Manchester in England, he studied the varying longevity of different species and keyed in on nutrition as the most reproducible method of researching lifespan extension, noting that the benefits of caloric restriction are seen across all species.

Kapahi will be the keynote speaker at a November 10 seminar at the Buck Institute. The seminar is free and open to the public.  “The Buck Institute is going to play a major role in age research,” said Kapahi, “I am particularly excited about collaborating with faculty members who are working on other animal models. I think there is much we can do together to speed the understanding of the mechanisms of aging.”

Two adjunct professors have also accepted offers to join the faculty at the Institute; both will spend at least two weeks each year on the Buck campus and be involved in collaborative research with Institute scientists.  Thomas Johnson, PhD, Professor of Behavioral Genetics at the University of Colorado in Boulder, is widely recognized as the “father of  genetic aging research”, having discovered the first genetic mutation (in the nematode C. elegans ) linked to the aging process.  Patrick Mehlen, PhD, a researcher at France’s National Center for Scientific Research and at the University of Lyon, recently authored a study appearing in Nature magazine which identified a new type of cancer gene.

“I am extremely pleased to be joining the Buck Institute”, said Johnson, “I have worked most of my career in relative isolation and the opportunity to interact and collaborate with a group of such high-powered researchers will be a great pleasure and will help us to gain greater insights into the bioenergetics underlying life-extension.”  Mehlen said it was a great honor to be part of the Institute, “This American-French association has already led to major findings that I hope will be of crucial importance in age-related disease. Being involved with the first research center focused on aging is a wonderful opportunity and lets me participate in a unique scientific adventure."

This year marks the Buck Institute’s fifth anniversary. It is this country’s first freestanding institute devoted solely to basic research on aging and age-associated conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, arthritis and stroke.

Since the Institute opened its doors on September 30th, 1999, it has grown to include 12 full-time faculty members who have published 326 studies in scientific journals. “I am exceedingly pleased with how far we’ve come in these first five years,” said Dale Bredesen, MD, Institute President. “We are on track toward meeting our objective of becoming the preeminent facility in age research. The fact that the first baby-boomers will reach 65 in 2010 provides an impetus for what we do,” said Bredesen, “Costs associated with age-related disease will have a huge impact on our society, I am proud that the Buck Institute was the first to respond to the Institute of Medicine’s call for the establishment of ten research institutes to address this critical need.”

The Buck Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life.  Buck Institute scientists work in an innovative, interdisciplinary setting to understand the mechanisms of aging and to discover new ways of detecting, preventing and treating age-related diseases. Collaborative research at the Institute is supported by state-of-the-art genomics, proteomics and bioinformatics technology.

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